I was honored to be invited by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism for the 2010 Gateway Fixed Base Operator Familiarization & Seminar Trip. This was a four day trip that included stops at Grand Bahama Island (Freeport), Green Turtle Cay (Abaco) and George Town (Exuma).
The trip started on August 26th when the group of invited guests met at SheltAir Aviation Services at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport (KFLL) for a briefing. In total, 9 planes with 41 people were about to embark on a 650nm adventure to the Bahamas!
Prior to departure, I logged on to eAPIS, the Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (https://eapis.cbp.dhs.gov/) to notify Customs and Border Protection of both my Notice of Departure and planned Notice of Arrival back to the U.S. I then filed an IFR flight plan from KFLL to MYGF for the 84nm flight to Grand Bahama Island.
After a short 40 minute flight, I arrived into Grand Bahama International Airport. The invited guests were greeted by a friendly staff that rolled out the red carpet for us. We were drinking rum runners and eating conch fritters before we even had a chance to clear customs. The welcome reception at the airport included a local band that played island music.
Bahamas Customs Clearance is quite simple. An Immigration Arrival/Departure Card is required to be filed by every passenger on your plane. If you plan to fly to more than one airport during your stay in the Bahamas, you will also need to file an Inward Declaration and Cruising Permit (C7A). Only the pilot in command is required to file a C7A. This form is given to customs where it is stamped and initialed during every leg of the trip. The form is returned to customs at your final destination before flying home.
We stayed at the Radisson Our Lucaya Resort, Grand Bahama Island. This is a 7.5 acre property located on a beautiful white sandy beach. Our room featured spectacular ocean views and had all the standard amenities that you’d expect (high speed internet, cable TV, etc). We opted to spend our time exploring the island. The Port Lucaya Marketplace, located across the street from the hotel had both an assortment of small shops run by locals offering a variety of Bahamian hand crafted goods as well as duty free shopping in luxury boutiques.
On Friday morning we departed Grand Bahama Island for Treasure Cay International Airport (MYAT). Prior to departure for Treasure Cay we were required to file a flight plan: It is required that you file either a VFR or IFR flight plan when departing Freeport or Nassau. Those are the only two airports in the Bahamas that currently require this. The trick is to file a “non closure” VFR flight plan so you aren’t required to open it.
The 70nm flight to Treasure Cay put us over some of the most breathtaking beaches in the Abaco Island Chain. We had been to Treasure Cay before, so we were prepared to bring our own tie down rope and chocks (You’ll find that most airports in the Bahamas don’t have tie down rope or chocks available). Clearing customs was once again a breeze. After clearing customs we took a 5 minute cab ride to the ferry dock where we boarded a ferry for a 20 minute boat ride across the Sea of Abaco to the Green Turtle Club dock.
I had heard about Great Guana Cay, but this trip was the first time I had a chance to visit the island. Our group had a private charter take us to Nippers Beach Bar and Grill where we had lunch, drinks and a chance to go swimming in Nippers two level pool and snorkeling off the Great Abaco Barrier Reef.
After returning to Green Turtle Cay we had a chance to explore the island with a golf cart rental from the resort. While Green Turtle Cay is very scenic, the beaches are rocky. One of my favorite activities on Green Turtle Cay is exploring Historic New Plymouth. This quaint 18th century village is just a short ride from the resort. It has museums, small shops, a sculpture garden and a handful of restaurants and bars. A fun spot to experience the island nightlife is Pineapples Bar & Grill. You can drink and dance the night away poolside while listing to live entertainment from local bands.
On Saturday morning we departed Green Turtle Cay for our third and final stop of the trip, George Town, Exuma. At 210nm, this was the longest leg of the tour. While flying at low altitude would have provided some spectacular views, I opted to fly at a higher altitude for cooler air and the extra buffer of safety.
After landing at Exuma International Airport (MYEF) we were greeted by friendly faces from Odyssey Aviation who refueled our aircraft. We were able to pay both our fuel bill and departure taxes to Odyssey Aviation, who processed our final paperwork and filed it with customs on our behalf. Deatra Symonette and her staff provided exceptional service.
Our final day in the Bahamas was just as relaxing as the previous two. After checking into the Palm Bay Beach Club we took a ferry to Chat ‘N’ Chill on Stocking Island where we enjoyed a home cooked lunch of ribs and conch salad. We had a chance to relax on the beach, swim in crystal clear water and feed the stingrays (Don’t worry! They are harmless).
We departed early Sunday morning in an attempt to beat out the typical Florida weather, to no avail. The weather at our planned arrival airport, St Lucie County International Airport (KFPR) deteriorated rapidly before our arrival. I made the judgment call to divert to Palm Beach International Airport (KPBI), which was a short 50nm away and under clear skies.
I had previously filed my eAPIS Notice of Arrival to Ft Pierce. I knew that the Ft Pierce customs office was expecting my arrival, and I was concerned about what would happen when we walked into the Palm Beach Customs Office unannounced. Miami Center was quite helpful and contacted the customs office on our behalf. Customs had been notified of our revised plans, and was ready and waiting for us when we arrived. We cleared the U.S. Customs in less than 10 minutes and were quickly back in the air on our way home to St Petersburg.
All in all, it felt like the trip was too short, but it always does. We’re already planning our next trip to the Bahamas!
More photos from this trip can be found on our company facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pilotmall